M/I Homes is the thirteenth-largest builder in the nation and a leader in the home building industry. As a mid-level production builder with a superior quality reputation, the company unabashedly embraces digital marketing to relate to and attract new buyers. The ability to deliver fresh, appealing and visual content to draw customers is an art perfected by Marketing Manager Web Platforms Will Duderstadt, who guides the company’s Internet marketing, online content and lead generation activities. Duderstadt is also a sought-after speaker, brand strategist and digital influencer. Even with that full plate of responsibilities, he took the time to speak recently with Insulation Institute to offer guidance on four things builders can do better to connect with buyers they hope to attract.
- Communicate Your Unique Value
There’s an increasing interest among consumers to be more aware and engaged with how products are made and Duderstadt believes this extends to the home. “TV gave us a glimpse of shows like ‘How It’s Made,’ or the award-winning ‘Dirty Jobs.’ The food and beverage industry has embraced this movement with craft breweries springing up across the country, restaurants offering farm-to-table menu options, and almost all our supermarket food having a country-of-origin-label,” he said. “Yet most builders still hold customers at arm’s length when it comes to the construction process.” Rather than keep consumers in the dark, he urged builders to educate buyers during pivotal construction phases. “Simply stating that local code requires 2 x 4 exterior walls, but you go above and beyond with 2 x 6 walls does not create value. Explaining that a thicker exterior wall means a better-insulated wall, resulting in a warmer, more evenly conditioned home has marketing value.”
- Give Your Customers a Megaphone
Every company dreads a scathing online review from a customer, and while even the finest builders will encounter those, builders should encourage their customers to take photos of their homes and post positive online reviews, Duderstadt said. That’s the upside to the growth in online reviews. “Ten years ago, that unhappy customer might have been spreading an opinion purely via word-of-mouth, and you wouldn’t have known your reputation,” he said. Online reviews by their nature are highly visible and influential, and builders should always respond to them, even the negative ones. “You might decide to take new actions to resolve the issue, or maybe you’ve done all you can do. Share your point of view with calm, direct, and supportive language. Your response might not appease the negative reviewer, but it will provide context to potential customers that will read the review.” Most importantly, Duderstadt says builders should get their happiest customers to submit online reviews. “There’s no shame in asking for a review when you’ve provided a great experience. Over time, the positive will outshine the negative.”
- Use Your Website as a Hub for Other Platforms
While most builders have established web-based marketing activities, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re optimizing their capabilities. Social media platforms, for example, are ever changing. When a new platform pops up, it can be difficult to assess, vet, and build a strategy to use it. Duderstadt notes that the biggest mistake he sees builders make is underutilizing their website as a hub for all other platforms. “This means leveraging Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and metadata tools. Tag photos with captions and keywords. Keep blog articles properly organized and searchable. Leverage the same photography across print flyers and online listings. If you treat your website as a de facto system of record for all your content, each additional platform becomes an extension of that hub,” he said.
- Mind Your Metrics
For builders with young digital marketing strategies, tracking the conversion of website traffic (or impressions) to leads is critical. Above all other metrics, Duderstadt says, this is a powerful assessment of which campaigns are producing results for the builder. He also advised that builders track the cost-per-conversion or the cost of the marketing activity to determine success in achieving the goal of the advertisement. “Tracking cost-per-conversions can be used to negotiate better advertising rates with vendors,” he held. “Working towards campaigns that have lower cost-per-conversions allows for more selling opportunities on the same budget.”
Evolving in the Era of Digital Content
When it comes to publishing content, Duderstadt said it’s no longer enough just be “there,” whether it’s Facebook, Zillow or your website. Publishing content, plans, and listings for communities aren't enough. Customers crave more, and if done right, content tells a story that builds an emotional bond between the builder and the prospect.
An increasingly powerful tool in the digital marketing toolbox is video. “Complete and high-quality photography and videos, as well as editorial, is now the standard. Those who go above and beyond by embracing transparency will stand out.” That transparency relates not just to what you’re selling as a builder, but how you’re selling it. Your story as a builder, those of your happy homeowners, the details of the home construction – those things still ‘wow’ customers and should be shared online, not just in sales offices.